Me­nial labour? Why, you’re soaking in it!

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

THE words “me­nial labour” are not ut­tered in Cana­dian play­wright Mor­ris Panych’s com­edy The Dish­wash­ers.

But this satiric of­fer­ing cen­tres on a de­bate about that con­de­scend­ing con­cept. If work­ing for a liv­ing is in­her­ently dig­ni­fied, is there any such thing as “me­nial labour?”

Em­mett (Ry­lan Wilkie) clearly be­lieves there is. A fi­nan­cial player brought low by a re­cent eco­nomic crunch, he de­scends into the base­ment dish­washer pit like an ig­no­ble Dante en­ter­ing one of the cir­cles of hell. (The set de­sign by Brian Per­chaluk is cor­rect right down to the skeevy de­tails, in­clud­ing a work­ing sink, rust stains on the stairs and a glimpse of a re­pel­lent-look­ing bath­room in the cor­ner.)

Em­mett used to dine in the trendy bistro up­stairs and now, des­per­ate for in­come, is forced to work there do­ing a job he never con­tem­plated.

Show­ing him the ropes is the ef­fu­sive Dressler (Tom An­niko), a ca­reer dish­washer who truly be­lieves his job is mean­ing­ful, that the chefs up­stairs are artis­tic vi­sion­ar­ies and that Em­mett (whom he will re­fer to as “New Guy” un­til he demon­strates his worth) must look on this seem­ing come­down as an op­por­tu­nity.

“You could be a great dish­washer,” Dressler as­serts.

The third man in the crew is Moss (Harry Nelken), a can­cer-rid­den ca­reer dish­washer oc­ca­sion­ally seized by mo­ments of de­men­tia, al­ter­nately en­thused and bit­ter about his job, which he half-heart­edly spins to ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive: “We’re workin’ our way up... ex­cept for the ‘up’ part.”

Em­mett, be­lieves this is not a ca­reer but a man­i­fes­ta­tion of his own bad luck. “This isn’t a choice,” he says. “This is a hole we fell in.”

Panych’s di­a­logue can seem stilted and it in­deed comes off that way be­tween An­niko and Wilkie be­fore the ac­tors hit their groove. By the sec­ond act, the three dish­wash­ers ac­tu­ally per­form a chore­ographed dance to de­note the un­likely phys­i­cal grace that comes with long hours in a tight space.

Di­rec­tor Robert Met­calfe leav­ens the oft-repet­i­tive di­a­logue with mo­ments of de­light­ful phys­i­cal com­edy, with Nelken in par­tic­u­lar shin­ing in a stead­fastly comic por­trayal of everdi­min­ish­ing phys­i­cal ca­pac­ity.

One wishes the di­a­logue was as de­light­ful, or as or­ganic. Of­ten, the lengthy ex­changes be­tween Dressler and Em­mett feel like a play­wright work­ing out a de­bate in his head and not a spon­ta­neous ex­change of ideas.

Those ideas are wor­thy of ex­plo­ration any­way, es­pe­cially in a time when the dig­nity of work is steadily be­com­ing an em­bat­tled con­cept.

Toby Hughes rounds out the cast in a brief but en­dear­ing comic bit as a drum­mer in need of a day job. Greg Lowe also pro­vides a clever mu­si­cal sound­track sug­ges­tive of cut­lery rhyth­mi­cally clank­ing in a rinse cy­cle.


Harry Nelken (left) and Ry­lan Wilkie dish it out at Prairie The­atre Ex­change.

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